Religious texts and oral tradition

Jacobus A. Naudé
University of the Free State, Bloemfontein
Table of contents

When dealing with religious texts, the interrelationship of oral and written must be clearly articulated (see also Orality and translation). The oral and written cannot be absolutely separated, either chronologically or in terms of importance, as done, for example, in the oral formulaic theory of Milman Parry (1902–1935) and Albert B. Lord (1912–1991), which espoused an absolute and universal dichotomy between oral cultures and literate cultures. De Vries (2012: 68–98) describes oral cultures as involved in an oral-written interface with locally determined features; these features may vary with respect to time, place or genre within a single culture. Furthermore, the oral and written coevolve through many points of contact (De Vries 2012: 74–75). With respect to the ancient Near East, Walton and Sandy (2013: 18) contrast hearing-dominant cultures, where traditions were mainly transmitted by word of mouth, with text-dominant cultures, where traditions were transmitted primarily by texts. In hearing-dominant societies, cultural traditions were internalised while texts were written for archives and libraries to serve as reference points for memorisation and recitation of the tradition (Walton & Sandy 2013: 21). Dissemination of knowledge is typically done orally, though it is preserved in written documents by the transmitters of the tradition.

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Further essential reading

Johnson, Will J.
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